This buffet-style Chinese Coconut Chicken has juicy chicken coated in a sweet coconut sauce. It's easy to make and tastes better than the restaurant.
🥡 About This Recipe
Coconut Chicken is one of my favorite dishes at Chinese-American buffets. I remember always lining up for it and filling my plate to the brim with it.
This recipe was given to me by an actual chef who used to run a Chinese buffet. All credit goes to my parents, who became friends with him and asked for the recipe.
The instructions are pretty simple, but the secret is in the coconut sauce.
🥥 The Coconut Sauce
Canned coconut milk serves as the base for the sauce.
The secret is adding a little bit of mayonnaise to give it a creamier texture. It might sound weird, but trust me, it works.
You won't taste the mayonnaise at all; it just adds creaminess.
Most people think coconut chicken uses heavy cream, but it doesn't. In Chinese cooking, we almost always use mayonnaise whenever we need creaminess.
🍗 Thighs Vs. Breasts: Which Cut To Use?
I've noticed at Chinese buffets that many dishes use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs. But in Chinese cooking, we usually prefer using chicken thighs because they're juicier and more flavorful.
Chicken breasts are slightly cheaper, so that's why restaurants use them, but for this recipe, I recommend chicken thighs; it's just one of the ways we'll make our homemade version better than the restaurants.
- Chicken Thighs: I highly recommend using chicken thighs because they're juicier and less likely to be dry after frying. Chicken breasts can be used, but make sure to keep an eye on them so they don't overcook.
- Coconut Milk: Use full-fat coconut milk. If the packaging doesn't say "light," it's full fat. Full-fat coconut milk is sometimes labeled as coconut cream.
- Mayonnaise: Any type of mayonnaise will work for this. I know that most Chinese-American restaurants use Hellman's or Miracle Whip.
- Sugar: Use granulated white sugar.
- Vinegar: Vinegar is required for the sauce to pop. I recommend white vinegar for its neutral taste, but you can also use rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or lemon.
- Egg Whites: They help form the coating around the chicken.
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch is excellent for making fried foods. Its lower gluten content makes fried food lighter and crisper than flour.
- Ginger: Ginger is the only aromatic needed in Chinese coconut sauce.
- Salt: To enhance all the flavors
- Oil: Use any neutral-flavored oil with a high-smoke point, like canola or vegetable.
STEP 1: Combine chicken, egg white, water, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well. Marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.
STEP 2: Put the cornstarch in a large bowl. Give the chicken a quick mix to redistribute the marinade, then individually coat each piece in the starch. Be sure to coat each piece generously.
STEP 3: Fry the chicken pieces in 350℉ oil in two batches until they're lightly golden brown, about four minutes. Drain the chicken pieces and set them aside on a paper towel-lined plate.
STEP 4: In a small bowl, combine coconut milk, sugar, mayonnaise, vinegar, cornstarch, and two tablespoons of water. Heat one teaspoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and saute for 45 seconds until it smells delicious. Add the sauce ingredients and heat it until it bubbles.
STEP 5: Add the chicken pieces and stir-fry until all the pieces are coated with the sauce. Serve immediately over rice, and enjoy!
🥡 Storage & Leftovers
Storing: Store leftover Chinese coconut chicken in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Reheating: Reheat by microwaving or gently heating over medium heat on the stove.
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Best Chinese Coconut Chicken (Buffet Style)
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs (or breasts; cut Into 1-2 inch pieces)
- 1 large egg white
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- neutral oil
- Combine chicken, egg white, water, and salt in a medium bowl and mix well. Marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.
- In a small bowl, combine coconut milk, sugar, mayonnaise, vinegar, cornstarch, and two tablespoons of water.
- Heat one teaspoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and saute for 45 seconds. Add the sauce ingredients and heat it until it bubbles. Set aside.
- Put cornstarch in a large bowl. Give the chicken a quick mix to redistribute the marinade, then individually coat each piece in the starch.
- Heat about 1 inch of oil 350℉. Fry the chicken pieces in two batches until golden brown, about four minutes*. Transfer to a wire rack to drain excess oil.
- Reheat the coconut sauce over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces and toss until all the pieces are coated. Serve immediately and enjoy!